WEHORR 2016: W1 Race Report

After a week full of bumps and celebrations, we had to do a full mental reset to face a whole different challenge, the Women Eights Head of the River Race. For this 6.8 km adventure, we headed down to London, some of us the night before, some of us bright and early that very same morning. The crew had slight changes from the W1 we were used to – including two rowers and the boat itself – and the atmosphere had a mixture of excitement and fear in equal doses.

The tideway is nothing like the Cam, it’s tidal (go figure!), busy and quite impressive. As a cox new to those waters, I attended a couple of very helpful seminars about it and prepared better than I have for any race ever. Easier said than done! Despite our plans and all the advice we got from our Captain for Boats and alumnae familiar with boating in the area, we all managed to get completely soaked while getting into the boat. Immediately after, our boat started drifting into another one while I was still trying to connect to cox box so the crew could hear the instructions. I finally got it connect and started shouting instructions, an activity that continued nonstop for the next 3 hours.

Being 319 out of 320 was far from a pleasant experience. During those 2.5 hours of marshalling we experienced first hand the four British seasons, from sun to hail. We marshalled to our position carrying out our regular warm up, rowing all 8 square blades, so the crew could feel they had enough control, even in the tideway. We slowly gained confidence and got ready for the race. However, the race start was still 2 hours away. The tideway gives you only a few seconds of break at a time before someone has to paddle back into position. At the risk of exhausting bow and two, we tried to alternate and share the burden, while eating away all the sugary food we brought.

Still freezing from being soaked and stationary, the rowers grudgingly de-kitted and we got ready to race. Despite the long distance, the next 22 minutes and 58 seconds passed by very fast. It was soon clear we would have to pass the crew in front of us, the moment came right at Barnes Bridge. I communicated our approach to the rowers and told them we would do it right after the bridge. It went pretty smooth, taking the racing line after the crew nicely moved to the side. But that was not going to be our last overtake of the day.

We encounter rough waters but the crew remained calm and strong, gaining a lot of distance of the next crews ahead. As we approached Hammersmith Bridge I was trying to find my reference point, that famous second lamppost I had heard so much about in the seminars, when I realized we had three crews just in front of us, all trying to pass each other. We quickly came to a boat length distance with very little space in between them for us to come by. With no desire of crashing oars in the Thames, I told the rowers we needed a very stable boat and pressure and they responded immediately.

After that, we headed to the last part of the race with a big push off of the bridge, while the rowers looked up at the, by now disappearing, crowd. Getting tired but at good rhythm, we made it through the finish line. Our landing was graceful as our pushing off but everyone worked efficiently to end a day full of excitement, cold and good rowing.

Joaquina Delas Vives, cox

Lent Bumps 2016: Day 4 W2 Race Report

Today was the last day of Lent Bumps and so spirits were high, especially when we had sporadic spurts of sunshine. We knew we had a tough row ahead as Wolfson weren’t going to give us an easy bump! However, pumped on Robert’s pep-talk and the copious amounts of sugar we were gulping down in Haribos, fizzy colas and chocolate buttons, when the final canon went we had a great start. We kept the momentum up and pushed through HARD. We were however facing a cross-wind which made the catch more challenging than we’d anticipated. We caught a few crabs and a few shipwrecks but we charged through to the finish line. As Wolfson managed to bump before we bumped them, we had a smooth row-over the finish line. It was the toughest of the four races we’ve rowed in but ultimately we remained un-bumped over the course of Lent Bumps and therefore we are undefeated! Our cox Julia was also potentially the greatest driving factor in how well we’ve done- her energy and dedicated coxing definitely got us those bumps! All-in-all it has been a really enjoyable experience and has brought the team much closer together.

Sofia Akhtar, 6

Lent Bumps 2016: Day 4 W1 Race Report

With an injury this term, I have had a new perspective on Bumps, seeing races from the bank, and boy, was it exciting! Beyond expectations (see video of today’s race…).

Today was the last day of Lent Bumps 2016, and the first day I was able to bank party W1. Spirits were high at the boathouse. As, W2 was just finishing their campaign, thrilled to be going up two and to be eating crêpes, W1 arrived, ready to give this last race their all. They had opted for a classic: the “fly or die” strategy, where the race would be short either way, and they were planning on going for a revenge bump on Churchill before the green machine Girton got to them.

Peterhouse M2 coming back to the boathouse with only 6 rowers and 7 riggers should have tipped us off: an especially eventful day of racing awaited us!

The ladies set off early, and had a nice chunky paddle to Chesterton. Being one of the first boats to get to the marshalling area, they had plenty of time to relax, and enjoy a ray of sunshine. Some were eating Haribo, others gossiping about ejector crabs in earlier divisions, or even napping in the boat. Everyone was essentially chilling, when the situation took a turn for the worse when we realised our cox had forgotten her life jacket, just when the umpires were starting to get crews back in their boats. Far from ideal.

After asking a few boats for a spare one with no luck, I decided to rush back to the boathouse to get one. This cycle definitely makes the Top 5 Most Stressful Moments from my captaincy. I had no idea what the time was, whether it was still worth cycling like a crazy woman, whether I could take the time to stop and breathe, but the last thing I wanted was for W1 not to be able to race for a damn life jacket, so I kept pedalling, coxing myself through it – “Heels down, Heels down”. Zig-zagging at full speed on the towpath on the Saturday of Bumps is never a good idea, but from the bottom of the reach, I could see a boat waiting for their practice start on Ditton corner, and I knew I still had a chance. I finally got to station 11, literally seconds before the 4 minutes cannon went off, exhausted and barely able to catch my breath, only to find out the crew had found a life jacket. Oh well! & What a relief! We were good to go! The President was taking care of the countdown, while Mark pushed the crew out, and I got my camera ready, determined to get the first stroke in this time.

The start cannon fired and the ladies flew off. They had another very strong start of theirs, and were inside station going under the Motorway Bridge. They were inching in, pushing hard on the legs, when all of a sudden they started gaining a lot faster. Very startled, I realised Churchill in front had caught a crab, and were struggling to recover. The ladies, blissfully unaware of the situation, were very focused on getting their legs down, and were still storming down the river. Unhelpfully, our coach had forgotten his whistle and was unable to signal the progress to the crew. Within a few strokes, they closed in on Churchill, bumped, and didn’t quite realise until properly hitting Churchill’s boat (RIP Octopussy’s bow). Extremely confused, they cleared the river as fast as they could, to allow Girton & co to plough through. I was absolutely ecstatic, not really registering, and still very emotional from that horrible cycle; our President gave me a hug, while we waited for the crew to cross the river and come park on towpath side so we could get them all greenery-ed. It was the first bump of the week for them, and the first bump ever for a few of them as well, and the girls were grinning. So was I.

The crew pushed off to row home, in the setting sun, cheered on by the joyous crowds, and in the generally happy, festive atmosphere, characteristic of Bumps Saturdays, with flags and victory laps.

Once again, this shows the magical “randomness” of Bumps, that unpredictability that makes this week oh so exciting. I cannot wait to get back into a boat, and for May Bumps to come around. Thank you for the entertainment this week rowing friends, it’s been real!

Lulu, Captain of Boats

Lent Bumps 2016: Day 3 W1 Race Report

The weather at today’s race was sadly not as wonderfully sunny as the earlier days, with grey skies but happily still no winds. We had a steady row down. There was plenty of excitement with the prospects of rowing out ahead of Churchill and giving Pembroke a good scare while we were at it.

Spirits were high before the cannon went, and we prepared ourselves for a long, tough race. We took off with a fantastic start, just like the previous two days, quickly gaining ground on Pembroke! The start was confident and purposeful, with a good rhythm. As we took out the stroke length and settled into the racing pace we kept gaining and leaving Churchill behind with some distance, to the point where we managed to get one whistle on Pembroke! Unfortunately after this the past two days of rowing with no rest day started to take their toll, so we didn’t quite manage to keep the good form we’d been maintaining so far. After some unsteadiness and some massive effort from Churchill they managed to close the distance between us, but we made them work for every stroke and fought them hard all the way to the Plough, where they managed to bump us.

Notable in today’s race is our continuing great performance early on in the race, which has been consistent throughout bumps this year. There’s a notable difference compared to just a couple of weeks ago, when our starts were substantially less stable and confident. After spending a few outings focusing on sorting out the starts we’ve improved so much, showing that we have it in us to do anything we set our minds to!

Next race will be tomorrow, the last day of the 2016 lent bumps! We will be chased by a very strong Girton team going for blades, with Churchill in front of us. This will be the time to pour out all of our remaining energy into the race, and really make Girton struggle! And of course, the dream is: revenge-bump on Churchill! Keeping up our strong starts we can gain on them fast enough to make them nervous, and if we really give it our all it’s possible! And with Girton coming up behind, it looks like it might be a short race, whether it’s bump or getting bumped tomorrow. Anything is possible!

Amanda Sjödahl, 5

Lent Bumps 2016: Day 3 W2 Race Report

We set off on a grey Friday afternoon, determined to have another good race. We were excited but nervous at the prospect of taking on Queens II for the second time, only this time we would only have one and a half boat length between us. We rowed confidently down to our position and arrived in good time. We took the time to warm up, experience Julia’s intriguing face painting skills and to gorge ourselves on Haribo. The cannon went off for the first time and we all jumped into the boat.

We went off to a good start taking the rate up to 40, however Queens II had an equally good start, we knew we were going to have to fight for our bump. We then settled into a strong rate 34-35 and started gaining on Queens II, spurred on by the whistles, we knew we were getting closer. Unlike yesterday we didn’t let the rate rise and channelled our excitement into strong and controlled stokes. Queens II had no escape and we bumped them!! We pulled into our usual spot on the bank and the whole boat exploded with happiness, excitement and relief.

We then rowed down and Robert proceeded to denude a whole tree to present us with our well-earned foliage. We made our way back to the boat house, concentrating on our rowing.

We know that our last race will be the hardest, Queens II will be up for revenge and will be on our tail. Additionally, we will be attempting to bump Wolfson, a very strong crew, before they bump Clare II (whom have rowed over 6 times already this week). We will put into practice everything we have learn this week and will at the very least give Wolfson a good scare.

Audrey Bellis, stroke

Lent Bumps 2016: Day 2 W1 Race Report

The second day of bumps was cold but still sunny as our W1 crew met at the boathouse ready to chase down Clare again. We knew the day would be different with Pembroke W1 chasing us, after their strong bump up on Caius yesterday. The row up was solid and we were marshalling with plenty of time to lie back in the boat and enjoy the sunshine. The final row up to our station was strong and together. We were only allowed to do rolling starts but as a crew we pushed through them, hoping to intimidate the boats around us. Finally, at the station we all waited in anticipation for the cannon fire.

Boom! It went off and we all moved together driving through the draw and wind strokes. We could see Pembroke behind us, pushing of their start as we neared the first bend. From the bank, Mark and Reana called to us to keep pushing, that we were gaining on Clare. As we neared grassy, our rhythm was settled and we were moving together well. But Pembroke were still a length behind us and before the bend, we passed Clare pulled over having bumped Queens. It was now us against Pembroke, pushing us to row hard over the whole course. Around grassy, the nearing crew behind us led to a little wobble and we lost some distance. Pembroke continued to gain despite our whole crew working through the whole stroke. Finally, just at the Plough, they caught us and we had a mad clash of blades.

We rowed hard as crew, never giving up and giving it all we had. Pembroke are a strong crew this year, and we still made the bump difficult for them. Tomorrow is a new day though, and with Churchill behind and Pembroke ahead, we need to continue with our fighting spirit and keep driving to the end. Pembroke had better watch out though, because we will fighting coming right back at them!

Nadia Blackshaw, 3

Lent Bumps 2016: Day 1 W1 Race Report

The sun was out and we were feeling excited and apprehensive for our first day of bumps. There were nerves in the boat as we knew we were being chased by Caius, who had unfortunately beat us only three weeks before in Pembroke Regatta. Despite this unease, we had a good couple of practice starts on the row up, and by the time we got to our station we were about as ready as we were going to be.

Before we had time to gather our thoughts, the 4 minute cannon went off, startling not only us in the boat but the bank party as well (much to our amusement)! With a pep talk from Abbie and Reana making the time between the 4 minute and 1 minute cannons fly by, we were suddenly being pushed out by Mark and lining ourselves up for the race.

The start cannon went and we were off. Following the advice of Reana, we were cool, calm and collected. Clinical. The start was one of our best and Caius very quickly drifted off into the distance. We rowed strong and hard and soon had gained one whistle on Clare. The crews behind us bumped out and so we just had to plough ahead, without worry of being caught. The rowing of the first few minutes was the best we’d done all term, and we maintained the water we’d gained on Clare. However, their crew was strong and we lost our drive a bit and didn’t manage to gain any more. We powered on down the reach past the waiting M1 and breathed a sigh of relief when we finally wound it down at Chesterton, having rowed over.

We’d worked really hard and rowed really well, and by the sounds of coughing emanating from most of the crew, we’d given it everything. We rowed home drained but feeling optimistic about the day ahead. The sun was warm at our backs.

Emilie Cousin, 4

Lent Bumps 2016: Day 2 W2 Race Report

We boated in good time to head up to the first checkpoint where we waited in the sun, eating many a Haribo on the bank. We were all in high spirits as the boat was being sat beautifully on the row to the checkpoint, so much so that Julia was even pleasantly surprised when we sat it at easy there, one of the most menacing things a boat can do to stir up the opposition. Then, with a good few race starts on the way down (which in total lasted longer than our actual race) we felt confident.

And we were off! We started off at rate 40, which we have done in training. What we did not do however was relax the rate and settle as we normally do, sure we went down to 35 at some point but then straight back up to 40 despite poor Julia’s calls to slow the slide down. It was probably a combination of the glucose, adrenaline and the whistles telling us we were close and gaining still. There was this unanimous, unspoken decision to keep the rate up and give it everything and when we found out we had bumped the atmosphere within the boat was indescribable.

What will stay with me was the Newnham College passing by, and we cheered them on, call it all girls solidarity if you will. They smiled and pushed on… into another boat. For some reason the Newnham cox didn’t ask to hold up until it was too late and the cox of the other boat, and stroke received a smack to the head with a blade. It was incredibly tense but all seemed to be okay afterwards. I will also never forget discovering the tree tradition, it just adds a touch of fun (and foliage in hair that refuses to come out) to the whole event.

I can only hope that the next bumps is just as successful or, should it not be, that we row with the same amazing quality, focus and determination that we did on Wednesday, as I had not felt anything like it this term… perhaps it was Dame Barbara’s lucky bear and its magical powers.

Elodie Burton, 7

Lent Bumps 2016: Day 1 W2 Race Report

Bumps began for W2 on an unusually sunny February afternoon – some say it was warmer here than in Morocco, but I wouldn’t go that far. There was excitement, nerves and apprehension in the air as the majority of the crew faced their first ever bumps campaign. The more experienced members of the crew shared their wisdom with the less experienced as we prepared ourselves for the afternoon of pain that was to come.

As we marshalled we took the time to fill up on Haribo and jelly babies, a well-known recipe for success. The journey to the start line was focused until our practice start drove us straight towards the bank. We recovered and another start settled us and brought back our confidence in that we knew what we were doing.

When the start cannon finally went, we did what we had trained to do. We worked our way through the start sequence and finally settled to the sound of a whistle. Darwin had gained half a length on us. But we were gaining on Wolfson so that didn’t faze us and we pushed harder. Moments later some confusion went through the boat as we passed Wolfson and FaT. They had bumped out in what must have been no more than 30 seconds. A restart or a jump 10 as Robert calls it brought the focus back as we had a new target. Many of us in the boat were not aware of this new target as we were so focussed on our own boat. But this new target was Queens W2. We went through our start sequence again what felt like the hundredth power 10, which closed the gap further between us and we pulled away from Darwin. We were going for the over bump. The boat started to become unsettled as we came into their dirty water but we got the focus back and fell in line again with stroke. The sound of the Whistle and the excitement from the bank kept us powering on. Darwin were chasing us but they had failed to gain further were falling back with every stroke. One more restart and we were within one length of the over bump. We could feel the dirty water from their boat and the excitement from the bank.

Then we crossed the finish line and it was over.

We pulled into the bank and the whole boat began to realise how close we had been. We almost did what many cannot even dream of and we would have done it had the race been longer. Another minute and we would have had them.

We may not have bumped today but we know now what we can do. Tomorrow is another day…and FaT W2 better watch out!!

Taine Ranaghan, bow

Rowing and sculling club for Murray Edwards College (founded as New Hall)